The Weekend Review: February 2012 Report

Originally posted 2012-05-28 12:24:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Go Fly A Kite (Ben Kweller)

Released: February 7, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Jealous Girl” & “Mean to Me”

When I saw Ben Kweller open for the Barenaked Ladies a couple years ago, I was floored by this performer who managed to blend a wide variety of influences and crossed the genre lines while maintaining a coherent, high adrenaline rock show.  For months afterward, as I picked up his albums, I struggled and largely failed to find anything to match what I had experienced live.  Now, with Go Fly A Kite, Kweller has finally recorded an album that properly expresses all his strengths, alternating between electric rockers and softer acoustic tracks, all the while maintaining a power pop energy that works to his strengths.  Mainstream music critics will largely ignore this album.  Nicholas Moffitt of VZ Magazine went so far as to call it “likeable,” but not before qualifying even this statement with “fans of Kweller and power pop.”  Is Go Fly A Kite the next great rock album?  I’m not arguing that, but it is one of the few albums in recent memory that relies only upon instrumentation and vocals for its energy.  There are no computer tricks employed here: only good, old-fashioned human performance.  There isn’t a clunker in the bunch, and the track listing steadily unfolds larger ideas and themes (not to mention the diorama-style CD packaging, which is one of the most imaginative I’ve seen).  Forget Moffitt’s qualification: if you’re a fan of rock and upbeat, energetic music, Ben Kweller’s latest is a must-hear.

 

 

 

Kisses on the Bottom (Paul McCartney)

Producer: Tommy LiPuma

Released: February 7, 2012

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “My Valentine” & “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”

A confession before I commence: I’m admittedly predisposed to a bad taste in the mouth upon hearing a well-established artist has decided to record an album of covers.  (I know, I know: I write reviews predominantly for a cover songs music video blog.  But, to be fair, we post them for free and for practice in between our regularly-scheduled albums of originals.)  A brief history of just a few of the cover albums that should compel a roll of the eyes: Michael McDonald’s Motown (2003) and the following year’s oh-so-creatively titled Motown Two, all five volumes of Rod Stewart’s The Great American Songbook series (2002-2005, 2010), and perhaps the most disappointing fall into the valley of covers: Eric Clapton’s Me and Mr. Johnson, a follow-up to 2001’s excellent Reptile album, followed in 2010 by a disappointing album of covers – Clapton – masquerading as his latest solo album.  So, when it comes to albums of this ilk, I approach with caution.  In this case, it is not so much that McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom is a bad album.  It clearly is a very well-thought-out, passionately rendered record.  And yet, on the heels of a string of masterful solo releases – Chaos & Creation in the Backyard (2005) and Memory Almost Full (2007) being probably the best of his career – this collection of traditional pop could do little else than fall short after five years without a new McCartney album.  For what they are, the songs are really done quite well.  It is clear from interviews with McCartney and his producer Tommy LiPuma that this was a labor of love, and it was even revealed that he held off on this project out of desire to avoid any allegations of jumping on the covers train (he even referenced Stewart’s Songbook series).  In the end, the clear standout is “My Valentine,” which just so happens to be one of two McCartney originals on the record.  Coincidence?  I think not.  He has referenced his next album as being along the same vein as the Foo Fighters’ analog, garage rock Wasting Light (2011), so I and others like me can rest easy on that.

 

 

 

Deep Space [EP] (Eisley)

Producer: Eisley

Released: February 14, 2012

Rating:  2.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Lights Out” & “Laugh It Off”

This pretty much fits the archetype of the EP: not bad, not great, just a little something to fill the silence between records.  If you enjoyed last year’s outstanding The Valley, then you’ll most likely enjoy Deep Space [EP].  Or, you could save yourself the five bucks and return to The Valley for more songs and a more fulfilling experience.

 

 

 

 

Sounds from Nowheresville (The Ting Tings)

Producer: Jules De Martino

Released: February 24, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Hang It Up” & “Guggenheim”

Don’t let the modern production qualities fool you: there is more here than the extensive list of “engineers” and “mixers” in the credits would have you believe.  The critics have called the Ting Tings out for this and any number of other criticisms: the album is too short, too frivolous, inane, etc.  What they have missed – and what most tracks on Sounds from Nowheresville have to offer – is energy and ambition, subtle touches in the harmonies beyond what is more readily apparent in the synthesized sounds, not to mention the centrality of Katie White’s guitar (yes, that is a real instrument in the mix and it is the female lead singer playing it; if only for that, I have reason to respect this album).  “Hit Me Down Sonny” and “Hang It Up” are as bright, cool, and catchy as you would expect, and yet other tracks like the passionately delivered “Guggenheim” and the tender, acoustic-based “Day to Day” and “Help” express the range the band has to offer.  While this is definitely not a development I would have expected, I have to admit that the Ting Tings have put out one of what will probably be the best albums of the year.

 

 

 

Rooms Filled With Light (Fanfarlo)

Released: February 28, 2012

Rating:  3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Shiny Things” & “Lenslife”

On Rooms Filled With Light, Fanfarlo have done a nice job of bringing a certain bright quality to the domain of oft-introspective synthesized music.  Aside from channeling a bit too much Ric Ocasek in his vocals at times, Simon Balthazar and company have recorded and sequenced a cohesive and purposeful record that boasts elements of artistic intention while maintaining pop-ready hooks, riffs, and overall production quality.

The Weekend Review: July 2012 Report

Originally posted 2013-01-11 01:00:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Cold Hard Want (House of Heroes)

Producer: Paul Moak

Released: July 10, 2012

Rating:  3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Out My Way” & “The Cop”

Kicking off as it does with the a cappella “A Man Who’s Not Afraid,” it is immediately clear that House of Heroes continues to work to defy the preconceived formulas imposed on their genre.  The next three tracks proceed to blow the roof off, raging with energy and literally screaming with ideas, criticisms, and hopes for change.  While “We Were Giants” runs a bit predictably, “The Cop” rebounds with the rare acoustic outing by House of Heroes, highlighting their more subtle talents, primarily with vocals.  Where this album falls of previous efforts, most notably 2010’s masterful Suburba, is from midpoint forward; the second half suffers from alternatingly predictable and bland moments that detract from the powerhouse opening.  Still, Cold Hard Want is a strong effort that marks House of Heroes as band worth keeping track of.

 

 

 

Harakiri (Serj Tankian)

Producer: Serj Tankian

Released: July 10, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Uneducated Democracy” & “Cornucopia”

“We rape the earth and don’t know why it strikes,” Tankian sings early on Harakiri opening track “Cornucopia.”  This sets the pace for the ten tracks that follow, ten songs driven by a critical voice that is masterfully woven into fast-paced soundscapes.  As early as “Ching Chime,” there is an epic quality that Tankian achieves here, particularly on this track’s chorus.  He seems to delight in continually ramping up the pacing, then alternatingly dropping back a notch to allow for some vocal breathing room and amping back up to nearly breakneck speed.  The result is an album that is both fun to listen to and engaging: there is both a beat and a message to be conveyed for anyone willing to listen.

 

  

 

 

thefearofmissingout (thenewno2)

Producer: pHd

Released: July 31, 2012

Rating:  3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Won’t Go” & “The Wait Around”

When I reviewed thenewno2’s 2008 debut album You Are Here, the best description I could form was that it was what I imagine Radiohead would have sounded like if George Harrison had been their frontman.  On their sophomore release, thenewno2 have maintained elements of their signature sound, yet I don’t know that this comparison holds true any longer.  They seem to have progressed, developing their sound beyond the realm of handy comparison. However, there is something missing here on thefearofmissingout that helped to drive You Are Here and enabled its strong sense of cohesion.  Still, it is rewarding to see the band stretching out a bit, incorporating new elements (rap, for instance), and maintaining an overall sense of experimenting with what will be their signature sound.

The Weekend Review: April 2012 Report

Originally posted 2012-11-18 08:24:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

A Wasteland Companion (M. Ward)

Producer: M. Ward

Released: April 6, 2012

Rating:  3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Get Ideas” & “Primitive Girl”

 

The “Him” half of nostalgia-rock act She & Him is the more veteran act of the two, and it shows on his most recent release.  A Wasteland Companion is unassuming at most times, but tends to manage that fine balance between simple and boring, leaning ever more towards “chill.”  The Zooey Deschanel – the “She” in She & Him – duet “Sweetheart” doesn’t leap out as much as you might expect it to, but I suppose what can you expect from a one-off non-She & Him album track?  As per usual, a little reverb goes a long way to making M. Ward’s vocals pop in all the right ways for his instrumental sound.  At times, he draws outside the box, as in the distortion on his electric guitar in the standout “I Get Ideas.”  Across the album, the acoustic guitar sparkles and the lyrics propel the sounds, working them into a cohesive yet artistic whole.  Most tracks fly by, many at under three minutes, but this helps to keep up the pace of the album.  When Ward drops the at-times-distracting ambient sounds and focuses on his songs for the words and music as directly as possible, the result is fantastic; and, thankfully, there are enough of those moments represented across this album.

 

 

 

What Kind of World (Brendan Benson)

Producer: Brendan Benson

Released: April 21, 2012

Rating:  2 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Bad for Me” & “The Light of Day”

 

It’s not so much that What Kind of World is bad so much as it is underwhelming.  Early on, the album suffers from songwriting that can’t sustain the length of the tracks (and the songs aren’t that long).  Later, as the tracks are shorter, they are not as well-constructed as it has already been established a Brendan Benson song can be.  Most of the time, the songs seem more interested in being recorded versions of what must have been fun to play in the studio and would even be fun to play out live, but the overall constructions don’t stand up.  To be certain, there are moments of transcendence, but these are lost in the slow drag that is the larger trend of the album.  Those interested in more of the brilliance hinted at here should revisit 2009’s My Old, Familiar Friend, one of the great works of that year.

 

 

 

Blunderbuss (Jack White)

Producer: Jack White

Released: April 23, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Freedom at 21” & “Love Interruption”

 

There is probably no album that Jack White could have released for his solo debut that would have fully made good on all the considerable expectations that have been building now for years.  With his talents and various influences spread throughout longer works of collaboration over the years – most recently, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, not to mention more subtle appearances as producer/player with artists like Wanda Jackson – there has always been a diverse range of moments where White’s influence has made itself recognizable.  Here, it is Jack White all the time, and the songs do – understandably, as on any album – fall into patterns and larger trends which are, at first, unusual for White’s work.  This all being said, given the opportunity, Blunderbuss is the deep, dark, quirky work that we expect and desire from White; tracks like the standout “Freedom at 21” and “Love Interruption,” back to back on the album, show off two sonic extremes that White has mastered.  The following song, the title track, takes it down a notch further even.  All in all, for me at least, this album suffered from the evil of high expectations.  It’s taken me the better part of the year to come back to the album again after the initial listening party that was the week after its release; what I’ve found is an excellent collection of well-written lyrics and overall eclectic songwriting: a strong album that is suggestive of the great work that is still to come from Jack White in the years to come.

 

 

 

Little Broken Hearts (Norah Jones)

Producer: Danger Mouse

Released: April 25, 2012

Rating:  3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Good Morning” & “4 Broken Hearts”

 

In the past, I haven’t followed the music or the career of Norah Jones all that closely.  When I learned that Danger Mouse would be producing the new album, I was intrigued.  The resulting album Little Broken Hearts is predictably subversive: slow and elusive at times but always with a strong, quirky sense of rhythm.  Of course, Norah Jones’ vocals – as they did in her appearance on the Danger Mouse-produced Rome – are a beautifully layered coat of paint applied to the dry bones of the instrumentation.  Some tracks stand apart from the rest, perhaps most notably in the opener “Good Morning.”  Much of the album requires patience, which is perhaps a way of admitting it lacks drive at times, or at best that it is artistically rendered in such a way as to make easy listening, quick enjoyment difficult.

The Weekend Review: January 2012 Report

Originally posted 2012-03-11 09:58:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Fallen Empires (Snow Patrol)

Producer: Jacknife Lee

Released: January 10, 2012

Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Called Out in the Dark” & “The Symphony”

With an overall sound and feel crossing entirely too closely to that of 2006’s Eyes Open for my taste, Fallen Empires is no match for the best work in Snow Patrol’s catalog.  Since the departure of Mark McClelland, their approach has veered away from the feel of 2003’s excellent Final Straw, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially given the achievements of A Hundred Million Suns (2008) as an album.  Already, Fallen Empires has risen above this immediate predecessor in chart rankings in most countries.  Though it is clearly an inferior, less artful, less fully rendered effort than A Hundred Million Suns, this album does have its moments: it kicks off strongly, and “Called Out in the Dark” is an excellent track.  The next several tracks hold their weight until a fade is taken on the title track.  From the middle to the end of the album, it is a hit or miss affair with some songs sounding half-baked, others coming across as masterful (see: the lively, catchy “The Symphony” or the aptly chosen – albeit fourth – single “In the End”). 

 

 

 

Those Around Us (Jim Fusco)

Producer: Jim Fusco

Released: January 13, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Chameleon” & “Opportunities”

For several records now, Jim Fusco’s advertising rhetoric has focused on the theme of continuous improvement, on the idea that the album in question is at least one step forward from the previous one.  While That’s All Jim (2003) will forever stand higher in my estimation than What About Today? (2005), I had to admit that the technical expertise, songwriting, production quality, and concept of the latter were indeed a step forward from the former.  Then, when Halfway There was released in 2009, it would have been difficult to argue that it was not Fusco’s best record.  Now, with the arrival of Those Around Us, it is time again to weight the question: does this most recent release truly outshine the previous record?  More on that after the review…  The brighter, crisper sound of Those Around Us is the logical progression from the clean, sharp innovations that were immediately apparent on Halfway There, though it is less a progression than an extension of that sound, with the single greatest difference being the addition of crunchy distortion on the electric guitars throughout, in addition to the new instruments introduced this time around.  Several songs would have fit seamlessly into Halfway, most notably the live, tuning-up feel of “Run My Way” kicking of the album much like “A Night  Away” revved up Halfway’s “b-side” and the upbeat, vocally driven rock track “Opportunities.”  And yet it would not be fair to suggest that Those Around Us is some sort of Halfway There, Part Two (or would it be called All the Way There?).  This album offers some unique tracks heretofore unequaled in the Jim Fusco catalog.  The standout track is clearly “Chameleon” which, as was the case with Halfway’s “I Got You,” showcases an impressive leap forward in terms of lead vocal, instrumentation, and overall songwriting quality.  The brilliance of “Chameleon” lies in its use of the high and low ranges, mixing the bright guitar and keys with the dull throb of a disappointed-sounding bass line.  Other standouts include “In Your Head,” one of the most naturally fast-paced Fusco songs to date, and “Helpless,” if not as much for its overall quality then for its out-of-time feel and for featuring what is perhaps the least recognizable, least predictable guitar part on the record.  Elsewhere, the sequencing of the album is typically thoughtful, as in “Chameleon” – a song about appearances, adaptation, blending in and thus fading away – being followed by an extension of the visual/appearances theme in “Look Around,” which is also notable for being Fusco’s first recorded performance on lap steel, unless you count his part on the May 2009 Laptop Sessions cover of the Wilco / Woody Guthrie song “Jolly Banker.”  Elsewhere on the album, there are several aspects that either confuse previous sentiments from Fusco’s music or demonstrate maturation.  Take, for instance, “Choose Your Words (Carefully)” – which, for the record, seems less a referendum than a lecture – and its track two advice; seven years ago, he used the second track to instead assert that you “can’t count on words to fill the space between.”  This is an interesting modification of that original suggestion.  Another notable difference comes in the closing track.  “How Are You Feeling Tonight?” marks the first time Fusco has ended an album with an interrogative song since 2003 (That’s All Jim’s “Where Do We Go From Here?; before that, he ended side one of 2002’s My Other Half with “Why Do You?” and side three with “What Did I Expect?”).  This most recent question track is a departure in the sense that it closes with the refrain: “Try to live just for today, hey…,” whereas the other three end by fading out with the question still unanswered (though, to be fair, “What Did I Expect?” offers syntactical challenges that would easily merit a ten page paper to fully deconstruct, and that’s a task for another day…).  What this structural difference suggests is not entirely clear, though it is in keeping with the declarative nature of the record’s other songs, which taken as a whole constitute a series of observations and, ultimately, recommendations: Fusco sings “Choose Your Words (Carefully),” “Don’t Give Up,” “if she’s the one, believe in me, you would know,” “just don’t put off what you can take right now,” “Look Around,” and “in your head, it always comes out the way you choose it; in your head, you live at the top until you lose it,” in addition to reminding us – in a slight variation on “Follow You Home” – of that classic theme “you can never go home again.”  Ultimately, the technical achievements of Those Around Us cannot be denied, particularly in Fusco’s nice overall use of reverb, distinct instrumentation, and (as the bonus tracks further prove) vocal arrangement.  However, there are several facets of Halfway There which, I would argue, serve to maintain its position as the best Jim Fusco album to date: namely, there is a certain longing, a sense of innocent questioning, exploration and discovery, and raw displeasure that surge through the 2009 album that simply isn’t present here.  This is not to undermine the strengths of Those Around Us, but rather to put them in relative perspective.  To my thinking, and I’ve often seemed alone in this critical stance, My Other Half still stands as the second best album in Fusco’s catalog (for its conceptual sequencing, ambitious strides in songwriting and packaging, and for its raw, unsettled emotion), placing Those Around Us in a smack down with That’s All Jim.  As must as I love the latter, I’m pretty certain the former would triumph in the end. 

 

 

 

A Different Sort of Solitude [Mini-EP/Single] (Steven Page)

Producer: Steven Page

Released: January 17, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “A Different Sort of Solitude” & “Manchild”

While I find it difficult to be excited about a mere two song EP two years after Page’s first album was released, I suppose we can’t expect more than for him to “make art when inspiration blows [his way],” as he sings in “Manchild.”  In that sense, this “mini-EP” – aka glorified single – is a tease, as both songs are clearly not throwaways from Page One but new, fully realized compositions with a tendency toward the expansive and epic in their soundscapes.  If anything, the theme of separation and recreation of one’s identity is stronger and more focused here than it was on his debut album, a thread that’s made clear up front in a title like “A Different Sort of Solitude.”  One has to wonder if “Manchild” is a significant title given Page’s long tenure as a Lady, but perhaps that’s just the BnL fan in me stretching things a bit…

 

 

 

Clear Heart Full Eyes (Craig Finn)

Producer: Mike McCarthy

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “”Honolulu Blues” & “Not Much Left of Us”

There is something truly beautiful about a solo project from the front man for a rock band that redefines his sound while retaining his core attributes and maintaining the interest and edge of a full band effort.  Craig Finn has achieved this sort of stark, perhaps even raw beauty on his solo debut Clear Heart Full Eyes.  As soon as the opening chords of the first track, “Apollo Baby,” there is just a hint of a gorgeous sort of menacing snarl that pervades the record.  The instrumentation on Clear Heart is stripped down in comparison to the Hold Steady’s typical arrangements of Finn’s songs, but it is far from minimalist; on most tracks, there are one or two guitar parts with distinct parts, unique bass tracks that add cohesion, and a drum beat to drive the progression.  Even though Finn’s themes here are as serious as ever and perhaps a little more so in some places, there is an unmistakable sense that he is having the time of his life.  It may be written off as a side effect of his lead vocals being stronger, higher in the mix than usual, but it is difficult not to feel the smile – or is it a smirk? – in “New Friend Jesus” or not to sense the general lyrical force and vocal conviction offered up by Finn throughout.  There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and tracks like the character tale “Jackson,” the rootsy romp “Honolulu Blues,” the sparse, devastating “Rented Room,” and the heartbreakingly perfect closer “Not Much Left of Us” will stand among the best songs in his catalog.  While I hope this solo detour doesn’t extend the time between Hold Steady records too much, I also hope that he’ll find his way back to a solo record in the not-so-distant future. 

 

 

 

iTunes Session (Wilco)

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “War on War” & “Cruel to Be Kind”

I’ll preface this by admitting that if Wilco wasn’t one of my favorite bands of all time (top ten, if not top five), then I would never have considered spending money for what is essentially a live-in-the-studio rehash of tracks from last year’s The Whole Love, with the lead single from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) and a deep track from A.M. (1995) thrown in, topped off with a cover of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” with the man himself taking lead vocal duties.  This being said, while there’s nothing really new here, there is the tremendous take on YHF-alum “War on War” and a general sense of vitality in their performances.  While I can’t in good faith rate this iTunes Session higher than three stars, I do recommend it for diehard Wilco fans.  Others should download The Whole Love in its entirety, as it was the best album from 2011 and perhaps the second best Wilco album of all time. 

 

 

 

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (Various Artists)

Producers: Jeff Ayeroff & Julie Yannatta

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Ring Them Bells” (Natasha Bedingfield) & “One Too Many Mornings” (Johnny Cash, [Bob Dylan,] and the Avett Brothers)

What a mess.  One would think that, what with nearly eighty tracks assembled from a widely varied and not-so-untested array of artists, a compilation of this depth and breadth – referring to both artist and song choice – would have enough gems to make its purchase worthwhile. Instead, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International largely function as a reminder that there is no replacement for artistry and, often, perfection the first time around.  The only truly great track here is the only one previously released: the title track, from Dylan’s 1964 acoustic album Another Side of Bob Dylan.  There are standouts, of course, in the efforts of artists like Natasha Bedingfield, Brett Dennen, Patti Smith, Jack’s Mannequin, Elvis Costello, and others.  There is remarkably strong work from artists that surprised me – most notably Rise Against’s take on “Ballad of Hollis Brown” and Raphael Saadiq’s better-than-competent cover of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” (though none will ever top Beck’s version).  And then there are the other sixty-something songs, less than half of which are bearable enough to be termed mediocre.  The majority are simply uninspired, and an uncomfortably high number are utter garbage.  The only truly surprising jewel is a reworking of The Times They Are A-Changin’ alum “One Too Many Mornings” by the Avett Brothers, who were granted access to the session held with both Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan early in the 1970’s, when Dylan was still in the heart of his “Lay, Lady, Lay” voice phase.  I have yearned to hear fully rendered songs from this reportedly spotty (in terms of quality) session, and the Avett Brothers have done this track justice.  At the end of the day, my consolation arrives in the knowledge that the proceeds here go to Amnesty International, and I wish I could recommend more than a handful of – maybe ten at best – tracks.

 

 

 

Ringo 2012 (Ringo Starr)

Producer: Ringo Starr

Released: January 31, 2012

Rating: 3.5 / 5 starrs

Top Two Tracks: “Wonderful” & “In Liverpool”

Ringo Starr returns to rock after but a brief absence – a mere two weeks more than two years since Y Not was released – and this time without an embarrassing title and without the song quality falling apart at the end.  It would be disingenuous to suggest Ringo 2012 is a return to pre-Y Not form, as it is no less a hodgepodge than its predecessor, an album on which Ringo collaborated with someone different to write every track, as well as returning to a previously recorded track.  Ringo 2012 follows the same pattern, including a cover of a thirties folk song (“Rock Island Line”), a Buddy Holly cover (“Think It Over,” first released last year on the Listen To Me: Buddy Holly tribute album), and two re-recorded songs (“Wings” from 1977’s Ringo the 4th and “Step Lightly” from 1973’s Ringo).  This leaves a mere five wholly original tracks.  Even still, this latest Ringo album bears the marks of an artist who has worked to make a cohesive compilation of songs.  They are smartly sequenced, the best being saved for (almost) last, namely the beautifully arranged, heartfelt “Wonderful” and “In Liverpool,” which somehow manages to transcend being the token “remember when I was a boy on the verge of becoming a Beatle” track.  The rest fall in line well: despite its brevity, “Think It Over” is fun and well arranged, of all the tracks to revisit, “Wings” fits well here as the single, and “Slow Down,” despite bearing the oh-so-obvious songwriting influence of Joe Walsh (see: Y Not’s “Fill in the Blanks for comparison), is an excellent, upbeat closing track whose energy defies its title.  In the end, Ringo 2012 won’t change the world, but it will make you want to tap your feet, dance and sing, or play along, not to mention crossing your fingers that Ringo continues to be so prolific.

 

 

 

Old Ideas (Leonard Cohen)

Producer: Ed Sanders

Released: January 31, 2012

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Darkness” & “Different Sides”

In a fast-paced world, Leonard Cohen refuses to hasten his step to draw us in.  Listening to a Leonard Cohen album requires attention and patience to fully appreciate its lyrical and musical nuances, and Old Ideas is no exception.  There is a timeless quality to this album, a sense throughout that the songs could have been written at any time during the past one hundred years.  Yet they weren’t written long ago and they are not covers; these are brand new tracks, and clearly driven by Cohen’s passion.  What I find most intriguing about Old Ideas is the manner in which Cohen manages to interweave elements of the sad and the sensual, taking the gruffness of turn-of-the-century Dylan vocals and flavoring it with a subtle array of inflections that make it inextricable from the casual beauty of the instrumental arrangements.  “Darkness” is as close as the album gets to an up-tempo track, and it is driven along by some of the strongest lyrics on the album; as the song continues, so the darkness spreads as though it were a contagion whisking away pleasures both present and past.  Likewise, “Different Sides” kicks off with one of the best opening lines: “We find ourselves on different sides of a line nobody drew.”  This closing track incorporates all the best elements from the nine that precede it: crisp, grumbling Cohen vocals, silky smooth female background vocals, an organ hovering somewhere between lilting and mournful, and percussion that holds the piece together.  In short, Old Ideas is a strong effort with consistently arranged and strongly poetic tracks, and though some do fade into the mix there are several that stand out as more, elements able to stand apart from the rest and yet encapsulate the beauty and sorrow of the overall record.